Hi all, and Happy First of July.

Wow summer’s flying by, especially when you’re doing two and sometimes 3 reviews per week.

Here we are on part three of our little experiment, known as the Sunday Spotlight. For those of you who don’t know, Roy and I have been working with Brad Viar on his script The Playground, breaking it down into four parts, and doing more detailed reviews on what should be happening in those parts.

The goal is to have a stronger script for Brad by the time we come out on the other side.

Similar to Friday’s article (and actually why we put the questions up early) we’re taking a look from the midpoint to the start of Act 3.

That said, let’s jump right into it.

1. Is the process of our identification with the protagonist complete by Act Three?

By the third act, we should see several universal character traits, which were first highlighted in the pages leading up to the midpoint, standing out in relief.

A) Are there universal character traits in relief by this point? Is the protagonist honest, resourceful, caring, or creative? The thing about these adjectives is that they are universal. The audience can relate because they possess all these qualities too (even if they don’t possess them equally).

Aven is definitely showing his caring side. He’s taken the kids to Cloud Town, and there decides to save them al by driving during an attack by Sir. (You’ll remember his fear of driving since he still feels responsible for killing his brother-in-law.)

There’s also the point at the waterslide where the group is being attacked by Sir, and Lincoln protects them. Aven makes the children and Red escape first, while also wanting to save Lincoln, but knowing he can’t.

Our protag is getting stronger, and believing in himself.

10 out of 10 points.

B) Are the negative character traits which have plagued the protagonist up through the midpoint in full retreat by the third act?

Yes. Brad has a bit of a dark moment with Sunny. (The sunflower that used to be at the beginning is now a gate keeper of sorts at the end.)

Problem is I’d like more. Aven’s lost his friends and is feeling down, so I’d really like to see Sunny question Aven’s resolve. Sunny should know Aven can do it, but Aven has to believe he can do it, and I think Sunny should present a sort of mental trial with more pointed questions and dialogue.

Sunny should help Aven understand that the Playground is more or less what they all make it, and help Aven realize what needs to be done to defeat Sir.

5 out of 10 points.

C) In other words, does the protagonist finally TRUST what is best in him/her?

By Act 3, when Aven saves the kids, he does believe that their imaginations will carry them through. This part felt kind of hokey the way the dialogue presented it.

Page 89:

AVEN
If this place has taught me anything it’s that
nothing appears as it seems. Just have to
use your imagination right?

Then at the bottom:

AVEN
I know now why Sir makes you forget who you
were. There is great power in remembering.
We won’t let him take us without a fight. Today
we stop running. Today we face our fear and
take back what is ours.

I’d like a more clear cut decision on what and how Sir is to be defeated.

8 out of 10 points.

D) Is there a symmetrical loss of viability in the power of the “antagonist”? Have we found a weakness?

Sir’s weakness thus far is the light from the book. Aven’s used it several times to hold Sir back, but it’s really only slowed him down. We’re missing that inverse relationship between protagonist and antagonist that is going to take this story to the next level. (And make people like me go, “Holy crap, that’s DEEP!”)

5 out of 10 points.

2. Is there a functional plan in place to resolve whatever issue has been keeping the protagonist from fade out?

A) Does the plan DEPEND ON whatever universal character trait(s) the protagonist has spent the first two acts honing?

Yes. Aven’s belief in himself is the crucial part of the plan. He definitely has that, hokey dialogue and all.

Don’t get me wrong, this is definitely the way to go about “winning the day,” but I just wished there was a better reason than “we need to remember.”

10 out of 10 points.

B) Does the plan seem like the ONLY possible way to get to fade out? In other words, is it a necessary outgrowth of the plot points—or does it feel convenient?

Truthfully, it feels very convenient. It’s suddenly like, “If we remember, we win.” There doesn’t seem to be a logical conclusion for how Aven arrived there, just that he did.

Aven is definitely becoming a stronger character as we go through the story, which has to happen, and makes sense, but again, they suddenly get to the Before Place and he imagines himself as a super hero, and the other kids with water and Nerf guns.

We’re missing a few steps of how we arrive there.

I’m not entirely sold on the visuals of what Sir’s doing to the kids. It needs to be a stronger image, and I think this is an excellent area to tie in their plan by giving a brief glimpse of what hurts Sir.

1 out of 10 points.

C) Do we believe the protagonist will succeed or do we know it? We argue that it is better if we believe it. As a writer, you’re working toward your Peter Pan moment.

This might be me cheating, since I read the script before, but I feel like they’ll succeed. I’m still rooting for them all to overthrow Sir.

10 out of 10 points.

3. Like Blake Snyder, we agree that the momentum arrow from the midpoint to the act three break should be less halting AND detrimental to the protagonist and his goal.

Therefore:

A) Have we been driving pretty much relentlessly toward the defeat of the protagonist?

Yes, but there needs to be a reason for Lincoln. He’s one of my favorite characters, but why do they see him other than stumbling upon his cabin.

The kids should give a bit of expo about him, and maybe he’s a guardian of sorts where they think they’ll be safe from Sir. (But as Sir’s power grows, so does Lincoln’s diminish.)

He also should tie in somehow to either the main story, finding Clara, or the subplot, saving the Playground.

8 out of 10 points.

B) Is the “antagonist” using the protagonist’s flaw(s) to increase this pressure on the protagonist?

Kind of. Sir is just chasing them. In Cloud Town, Sir uses Clara’s image to trick Aven, but it was brief.

He DOES let Aven escape, apparently because Aven isn’t a child anymore emotionally or internally, but I’m not sure this is necessarily taking advantage of a flaw.

It’d be very cool (and maybe incorporate Lincoln into this) to have Sir call him out on Clara, what he did to Henry, or the fact that he doesn’t think he’s up to the challenge.

Doing this with Lincoln would be a nice tie in ESPECIALLY if it forces Aven to leave Lincoln to accomplish his goal. Sacrifices always lead to drama which leads to conflict.

(Which there still needs to be more of between Aven and the kids. They’re kids after all and shouldn’t want to lose Lincoln. Think of the hobbits when Gandalf sacrificed himself in Moria.)

Another good point could easily be where Sir hangs onto the car as it hovers above Cloud Town. He can remind Aven of his tragic accident, and ask Aven if he really wants to drive these kids. (This also presents an opportunity for the kids to ask what happened.)

5 out of 10 points.

4. Is there a clear place in the script where the protagonist points toward his/her trust in what is best about him/her?

A) Is there A SINGLE PAGE where it “clicks” for the protagonist.

Page 90, but again, I’m not sure exactly how Aven arrives there.

7 out of 10 points.

Conclusion

This part is a lot like the old script. I don’t think that’s a problem, but in an effort to streamline, it did feel like important facts from the old script didn’t make it into this one. (Like who Lincoln is and how he works.)

I kind of missed the balloon/waterslides scene. It was a cool scene where the group was lost. Talking with Roy though, I think we could go either way on that, and although it’s cool, it might be better to just keep the story moving.

Pooches and Flappy I liked being turncoats, but the dialogue seems EXACTLY the same from the first version and doesn’t fit the new outcome. GREAT dialogue for here will be cloaked double talk, where we’re not sure if Pooches is good or bad. (Especially after his “no stowaways” bit, where we laugh, but uncomfortably.)

Ultimately Pooches needs to spell it out that in order to save himself and Flappy he has to deliver them to Sir. AND it should be a more dramatic scene, like with them tied to the ship or something.

(Pooches should begin that “all is lost” moment that Sunny will continue, since Pooches has more or less given up hope.)

One last point, with all the memories in the field being from kids, we shouldn’t jump to an adult memory of Elle and Henry. A GREAT idea is to have them meeting as kids, presenting their love as that “once in a lifetime” sort. This makes the fact that we lost it all the more powerful. Maybe it’s Henry giving Elle a flower then her kissing him on the cheek, but something cute that kids in love would do. Aven taking the memory should also be more subtle.

Still, overall it’s good, and we’re heading in the right direction. Remember, this is the spot where it all has to tie together, and you’re bringing us down the homestretch. There needs to be substantial polishing once we finish the final part of this experiment, but no need to fear, Roy and I will be there to help.

Total 69 out of 100 points.

PS -What happened to the crystal? Did that get written in, only to be written out of the newest version? (I seem to remember Aven putting it in the book? Or am I making that up?)

6 COMMENTS

  1. “Still, overall it’s good, and we’re heading in the right direction. Remember, this is the spot where it all has to tie together, and you’re bringing us down the homestretch. There needs to be substantial polishing once we finish the final part of this experiment, but no need to fear, Roy and I will be there to help.”

    I have been reading along with each installment, and have often stressed how valuable and educational this process has been.

    What I learned from this section is that rewriting is a highly technical exercise requiring a dispassionate approach. The weaknesses of the original draft of The Playground were primarily mechanical, structural. In improving these aspects of the script, Brad may have temporarily de-emphasized some of the imaginative visual whimsy that made his original stand out. But I think Hank’s generous pledge to assist with polishing indicates a belief that the final draft can be re-infused with this magic.

    The fact that this script is in the process of getting better reminds me of Chris’ post in the forums about writing dialogue with place-holder lines, “xxxxx”, just to get the rythyms right first.

    I have also believed from the new first 15 forward that polishing the prose and working on the sentence structure and cadences will help this particular script to convey that magic quality, even in the more mundane adult-world scenes. I feel that this is the key to making this really great read.

  2. First off, thanks for the review. I think everything you touched on is right. Lincoln and Sunny can definitely be used to drive the story further. I think Walter got it right. The first script had the magic, this one (mostly) has the mechanics. I am looking forward to doing a complete polish of the final script. It really is a new script in a lot of ways. Once I’m done with the final pages I look forward to all of us polishing it off.

    To answer some of your questions: The crystal was swallowed by the book while they were sitting on the hood of the car. This caused the beam of light to emit out of the book while they were in Cloud Town. I went back and read that and it is not clear that the crystal was devoured. That I will fix.

    I will talk to you guys about maybe showing a weakness in Sir. After reading the review I see how quickly Aven has an epiphany and the fact that there is no real plan. I agree there needs to be a laid out plan so that the story has a direction. I am more reserved about showing a weakness in Sir, or more than I have already shown. I am going to work on Aven hatching a plan. I also like your ideas for Lincoln. The cut the balloon slide scene because I felt that it didn’t drive the story forward. I like that scene but I didn’t feel that anything was lost by it’s absence. Maybe I was wrong.

    Getting back to Sir. I know how I want their inevitable battle to end and it involves Sir being all encompassing, unstoppable, unbeatable. I think I can still do that by maybe showing a weakness in which Aven basis his plan off of. In the end though, whatever plan he has made is going to fail miserably. This will force him to deal with the real problem. He was pulled into abyss at Cloud Town and lied to Red about what he saw inside the darkness. The final battle will take place within the abyss. So Sir can have a weakness but he won’t be defeated by it.

    I like your idea for Henry’s memory. Also, you are right, the stealing of the orb should be more subtle.

    This rewrite has been focused on making the structure sound. It has definitely lost some of the magic from the previous script. Luckily, I got you guys to point out to me when I could spend a little more time with a scene. That really helps, I take it as a compliment. You want to know more about Lincoln and Sunny. That’s great! I also love the idea of writing XXXX in for the dialog then going back.. I have never heard of that and think that it could really help me. I feel that dialog is one of my major weaknesses.

    All in All I take this as a positive review even though my score seems to be falling. There are countless things that could be wrong that would be worse. You’re asking me to expand a little on the story and that is always easier than someone poking a large, unfulfillable hole, in the middle of your plot.

    I will send you guys an email with a few questions I have. Thanks for the input. Until next time.

    Brad

  3. A little late owing to severe weather and power outages, here is my review for Brad’s third installment.

    I posted it onto Hank’s review hoping that the discussion would be easier to follow.

    1. Is the process of our identification with the protagonist complete by Act Three?

    A) Are there universal character traits in relief by this point? Is the protagonist honest, resourceful, caring, or creative? The thing about these adjectives is that they are universal. The audience can relate because they possess all these qualities too (even if they don’t possess them equally).

    There is still one problem plaguing this script which is a holdover from the original draft. Aven had likeability issues in that draft which all of us who read it noted. He came across as needing a good sanding to smooth out all of his rough edges.

    The author FIXED this in his first 15 pages. Even though he has since rewritten the first 15 significantly, the problem is still FIXED in this draft up through Act One. I’ll call this fixed Aven, AvenOne.

    AvenOne is flawed for sure. I would argue, though, that he is LIKEABLY flawed. The universal that we, as an audience, can identify with attracts us to his story. He cares for the people in his life. Interacting with Elle and her children, we see a man who is stuck in a mildly depressive rut of his own engineering. He has restricted his world because he feels that he can’t do any damage in a restricted world.

    Of course most of us can’t hold ourselves responsible for the sort of “damage” Aven caused in the backstory of his story, but we do know what it feels like to let someone we care about down. This feeling does lead us, for a while, to want to restrict our world to limit the damage we can do. We extrapolate from this universal to the specific AND THEN we root for Aven.

    AvenOne is also self-effacing. He does not consider himself interesting enough to attract Clara. Because of the information in the preceding paragraph, though, we know he is.

    This is a perfect character set-up. The audience knows something the character doesn’t AND we know what it is the character will have to learn.

    AvenOne is a great protagonist. As an audience we will identify with, and root for, a character like this to successfully make it to Fade Out.

    From pages 20-55 we’re introduced to a new Aven. This version of the character is a bit of a non-sequitur given what we learned about Aven in the first 20.

    His interactions are sarcastic and uncaring. He seems more likely to go for a joke at another character’s expense than to notice when they are scared or in pain. We don’t want to root for characters that have these kinds of flaws. Flaws which come strictly from selfishness tend to repel an audience.

    Amazingly, I don’t even believe in this characterization of Aven. He is not the SAME person I got to know.

    AvenOne takes care of people. AvenTwo has a goal but no internal motivation to reach it.

    Our final Aven, AvenThree shows up shortly after the midpoint. He begins to act, which is good and what we are looking for in a protagonist. The issue I had here, is that the drive to act comes from the introduction of a new trope—Aven must find (and learn to trust) his imagination.

    Like I said, this is good. The problem is that it doesn’t quite match the AvenOne we were introduced to in the beginning. That Aven is self-effacing and world-restricting. There may be an implication of imagination losing buried in that psychological profile, but it isn’t outright stated the way I think it needs to be.

    Perhaps, Clara could see the flying E for what it really is, and Aven could see it as a “bug”. Maybe, Aven could be so sleepy in that tragic car ride because he has overextended himself. Henry could tell him to stop for the night but Aven refuses because he trusts in his abilities.

    A few things like this would tie AvenOne to AvenThree and complete the emotional attachment of the audience.

    3 out of 10 points.

    B) Are the negative character traits which have plagued the protagonist up through the midpoint in full retreat by the third act?

    Yes. I do think, though, they need to be harmonized and focused. The last question made that clear.

    If we agree that AvenOne and AvenThree are related and that a consolidated version of these Avens will be our eventual protagonist, then we do have a small issue here. The negative character traits which go into remission by the third act belong to AvenTwo.

    What we need is the gradual reemergence of Aven’s belief in ALL of his abilities. The final straw will be the epiphany he has that he needs to trust in his imagination.

    6 out of 10 points.

    C) In other words, does the protagonist finally TRUST what is best in him/her?

    Yes. And once again, the author demonstrates what is best in his story with this question. A tonally harmonized Aven has tremendous potential for resonating with audiences. Add to that the outstanding visual elements of his story and you have a recipe for script success.

    10 out of 10 points.

    D) Is there a symmetrical loss of viability in the power of the “antagonist”? Have we found a weakness?

    This question is also held up by the tonal issues revolving around the three Avens. A draft which focuses on Aven’s self-effacing and world-restricting flaws will, necessarily, throw into relief the difference between Aven and Sir.

    Sir’s power IS Aven’s weakness.

    5 out of 10 points.

    2. Is there a functional plan in place to resolve whatever issue has been keeping the protagonist from fade out?

    A) Does the plan DEPEND ON whatever universal character trait(s) the protagonist has spent the first two acts honing?

    Yes, if we subtract AvenTwo from the equation. Strictly speaking, the real answer to this question is that: yes, the plan depends on a universal character trait (trusting one’s abilitites or UNrestricting your world) but, the protagonist hasn’t spent the first two acts honing this skill.

    I don’t think this is a fault line in the script, by any means. If the author combs back through his draft remembering who Aven really is, this will write itself naturally into the script.

    6 out of 10 points.

    B) Does the plan seem like the ONLY possible way to get to fade out? In other words, is it a necessary outgrowth of the plot points—or does it feel convenient?

    Again the script is skating uphill against the unlikeability of Aven which survived from the original draft into AvenTwo.

    What I will say is that the seeds for Aven’s solution being the ONLY possible solution have been well planted. They will bear fruit. Right now, we’re still an AvenTwo away:
    4 out of 10 points.

    C) Do we believe the protagonist will succeed or do we know it? We argue that it is better if we believe it. As a writer, you’re working toward your Peter Pan moment.

    Once AvenThree makes his appearance, I found my investment in the story skyrocket. I do only believe that THIS Aven will defeat Sir. I don’t know it.

    10 out of 10 points.

    3. Like Blake Snyder we agree that the momentum arrow from the midpoint to the act three break should be less halting AND detrimental to the protagonist and his goal.

    A) Have we been driving pretty much relentlessly toward the defeat of the protagonist?

    The plot points for this “defeat” of the protagonist are all in place.

    Hank’s suggestion of finding a reason for Lincoln, or introducing him earlier is a good one. Maybe, he could arrive earlier and have Aven slowly humanize him—hastily scrawled mouth ears and eyes when we first meet him. Aven could then give him DETAIl as the script progresses. This would make his death at the hands of Sir moving because we would know that Aven is attached to him.

    (This would also work to synthesize AvenOne and AvenThree and eliminate AvenTwo. I imagine Lincoln being appointed as guide by the king. The king will give him the “task” of drawing a face on Lincoln so that he can communicate with them. Aven’s response to this “task” in the detail he provides for Lincoln will be a metaphor for his growth toward Fade Out.)

    7 out of 10 points.

    B) Is the “antagonist” using the protagonist’s flaw(s) to increase this pressure on the protagonist?

    I’ll defer to Hank’s discussion of this point in his review.

    It makes absolute sense that Sir knows about the accident and taunts Aven with his culpability in that tragedy. Very little rewriting to incorporate this change coupled with exponential increase in the pressure on Aven.

    It’s all there; it just hasn’t been mined yet.

    5 out of 10 points.

    4. Is there a clear place in the script where the protagonist points toward his/her trust in what is best about him/her?

    A) Is there A SINGLE PAGE where it “clicks” for the protagonist.

    Yes. I think that, when AvenTwo is eliminated and AvenOne and AvenThree are synthesized, this will be a perfect “clicking” moment.

    10 out of 10 points.

    Total Score: 66

    Conclusion:

    In his comment on Hank’s review, Brad got at the heart of what this process is meant to be about. We have all been ripping through his script to finalize the Structure first. Brad’s original draft, while amazingly visual and creative, contained a strongly episodic quality. That problem was endemic to the structure of the original draft. Brad has worked tirelessly to iron this issue out and he is succeeding. In other words, the lower scores are NOT a problem for this rewrite.

    Once the structure is in place, the details which create resonance in the audience (and which our questions focus on) can be added. In other words, Brad is winning the metaphorical war between reader and writer.

    I look forward to reading the finished product.

  4. Thanks! Another great review. I like Lincoln being their guide. That would be a lot of work but it would pay off ten fold (no pun intended). You just opened my eyes to AvenTwo and how he needs to be slapped. Imagery is easy for me, characters are hard. I like the compassionate Aven angle and it would meld the first and last Aven nicely. I will write the final act with these reviews in mind. A sort of prep for the overall rewrite at the end. It’s good to know that in the last script I was 0 for 3 as far as Aven’s character goes. Now I’m 2 for 3. A 66% improvement is not bad. Hell, mulit-million dollar movies get 5% ratings on Rottentomatoes. I think these two reviews have been the most helpful yet. You guys are getting a longer view of the story and with your suggested tweaks things should come together nicely in the final revision. But for now, I write the thrid Act. Where Aven wakes up and realizes it was all a dream and he continues to be depressed, you guys will love it. jk.

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